Visual Communication Students co create artworks with clients at Arlington House Homeless Hostel
In May and June 2019, a group of nine MA Visual Communication students joined the Friday afternoon workshop sessions of ‘Creative Space’ at Arlington House Homeless Hostel, a joint project by Arlington and SPACE, a visual arts organisation. Arlington service users also attended the workshops on a voluntary basis.Students ran a range of shared activities, such as story sharing using narrative prompts, making speed portraits, mask making and group drawing. These informal exchanges slowly inspired creative conversations, stories and partnerships in an atmosphere of shared learning. Students were then asked to write individual project proposals and encouraged to develop them further during the summer. The results of these projects, in the form of performances, recordings, drawings, films, publications and installations, are being showcased in Conversations an exhibition at Arlington House on 21 November.
Anne Howeson, Tutor MA Visual Communication, explained how the project came about: ‘My own practice has recently concerned homelessness in and around King’s Cross and St Pancras and I wanted to share aspects of my research with RCA students. We weren’t there to teach the clients or make critical comments on their artworks, but to generate real collaborations and an equal creative exchange. We wanted to get to know each other and make connections – quite a challenge within five short meetings at Arlington House.
The project had a speculative element – there was no prescribed outcome. Not wanting to invade a ‘creative space’ which was for the residents’ use, and with a student group that was larger than expected, we decided to stagger the numbers at the RCA workshops and prepared ourselves to accept that Arlington clients may not want to collaborate.’
One of the Creative Space leaders, Federico Gallo – who Anne said ‘has been an inspirational and generous workshop leader – both to me and to the students’ – commented:‘This project was the start of a visual and emotional exchange between two groups of artists with different backgrounds. Exploring, discovering, comparing each other’s experiences strengthened our ability to listen, tell and ask. While trying to visualise similarities and differences, recorded chats and performances were born organically during our sessions through graphic responses and with music made together.
From a facilitator’s point of view, the project was a successful collision with an easy and joyous atmosphere created by the collective. Between the spilling of ink and a dance we worked at redefining stereotypes.’
Students participating in the project each found new ways to approach their work. Through a process of photography and animation, Harvey Steele created an audio-visual moving image experience in response to his experience at Arlington House. Discussing what he gained from taking part in the project, he said:
‘I have learned to interact and engage with the residents, to form connections and gain new perspectives. The project has created a greater awareness of ethics and produced challenges to be navigated with deep care and consideration. It has been an unforgettable and rare opportunity to nourish a respectful and conscious awareness while integrating with a fragile community. This has had a profound impact on my practice.’
‘My curiosity about art and its function in different communities motivated me to join the project. Revealing yet another facet of art, the project has made me question the meaning of collaboration and understand how transactions in art can be mutually beneficial.’
Through a sequence of images made by woodcut and digital editing Yiqi Zhang’s work aims to show how art can confront and close the gap between ‘us’ (RCA students) and ‘them’ (Arlington House service users). Reflecting on the experience Yiqi notes:‘Homelessness can happen to anyone. It is a really complex and urgent issue and we should never avoid talking about it. Art is so much more than what we learn at school. The good thing about art is that it is a normal form of human interaction. We communicate through art, regardless of our experiences, age or class.’
Conversations was exhibited as a collection of audio visual responses by the students on 21 November 2019, as part of ‘Creative Space’ Annual Autumn Exhibition at Arlington. Through installation, music and art, the event will be a celebration of the many stories and the vibrant creativity that thrives inside Arlington.
We are grateful to the residents’ for their patience and warm welcome, also for the support of Arlington staff member Federico Gallo, one of the Creative Space leaders, who created a wonderful relaxed atmosphere in the studio and to Fiona Fieber, Head of Learning at SPACE. Thanks also to Sarah de Winter, Social Economy Projects Officer, and David Leeves, Director of Social Mobility at Arlington. And to colleagues at the RCA: Hannah Lambert, Community Engagement Manager, Agatha Ojugo, Senior Research Administrator Visual Communication, and Joshua Trees, Research Tutor.